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JUNE 19, 2023
Good morning, Fearless readers:

In today's e-newsletter, you will find lots of women's health news and more:

  • News of the Iowa Supreme Court's declining to reinstate a six-week abortion ban, which means abortion remains legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. It's In the Headlines below.
  • A story about Sharon Malheiro, a longtime Des Moines attorney who died suddenly in April. Malheiro’s work was instrumental in legalizing same-sex marriage in Iowa. The LGBTQ community and its allies are celebrating their first Pride month without Malheiro. Who will become the community’s next leaders? And how can businesses support them?
  • A news story about endometriosis In the Headlines – researchers might be closer to finding the cause of this extremely painful and debilitating condition that can cause infertility and missed work days.
  • A Closer Look story about Kate Zimmerman, the new executive director of Whiterock Conservancy near Coon Rapids.

– Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer

After Sharon Malheiro’s death, Iowa’s LGBTQ community navigates grief and advocacy
Des Moines attorney Sharon Malheiro died on April 10. Malheiro and her wife, Sue, were known for opening their home for "Framily" night, welcoming anyone for good food and good conversation. Photo by Jami Milne.
Sometimes it seemed as if Sharon Malheiro was everyone’s mom.

"When she died, it felt like, ‘Well, Mom is gone, and we’re not ready to be Mom yet,’" said Des Moines attorney Breanna Young.

This is Iowa’s first Pride month without Malheiro, a longtime attorney and activist who was instrumental in advancing the court case, Varnum v. Brien, that made Iowa the third state to permit same-sex marriage.

She founded the LGBTQ-rights group One Iowa in 2006 and was a go-to name in that community for legal issues large and small, in addition to successes defending and advancing abortion rights. Her unexpected death on April 10 has prompted questions about who might take the baton from her for future court fights over those issues.

But perhaps more importantly, how could the law community, the business community and the LGBTQ community nurture the next generation of people who possess the same leadership and advocacy skills as Malheiro? How can that next generation be mentored?

Mentoring is what Malheiro did. It was seemingly part of her personality. Malheiro and her wife, Sue, opened their home on Fridays for "Framily" night, welcoming anyone for food, conversation and brainstorming.

At the time immediately preceding Malheiro’s death, she was a board member emeritus for One Iowa, serving in a consulting role. Courtney Reyes, executive director of One Iowa, and Keenan Crow, director of policy and advocacy of One Iowa, had regular calls with her.

One mentorship solution proposed by Reyes and Crow: Having people attend the 14-week LGBTQ Leadership Institute hosted by One Iowa, which is in its sixth year. Applications for the institute are typically due in the spring. Classes are held in June through October.

The only requirements for participation in the institute are that a person has to be out, age 18 or older, and working toward a specific goal.

"This is really focused on queer folks, really trying to highlight people of color, Black, Indigenous folks and trans individuals, and to give them the opportunity to find their authentic voice. We’ve kind of taken away the words ‘to empower them’ because they already have the power. It’s just to give them that confidence," Reyes said.

Some topics: How to run for office, what is lobbying, what does professional dress look like?

"We’re trying to make a space for folks to really be able to show up as their full, queer selves when often that is not always applauded," Reyes said.

Crow said the organization is trying to build a group of leaders "that are more in Sharon’s vein."

"It’s not just that we’re giving them business skills, or it’s not just that we’re giving them political skills. We’re trying to give them leadership skills, so that whatever situation they find themselves in, whether that’s a boardroom or a city hall or whatever it might be, they have something to draw on to not just improve their communities, but also to have confidence that what they’re doing is going to improve their communities," Crow said.

Typically, 15 to 20 people go through One Iowa’s Leadership Institute annually, Reyes said.

Crow said it’s also essential for members of the Iowa business community to show up for the LGBTQ community when it counts, and that there were "a lot of missed opportunities" during the most recent legislative session.

"I think there were a lot of folks that talked a big game. They’ll have booths up during the Pride festival, and their names were suspiciously missing in those lobbyist declarations. Their voices were suspiciously missing in the private conversations. Their statements in public were suspiciously missing when that legislation was going through.

"The Iowa business community as a whole really fell on their face this legislative session and really showed where they were and were not willing to use their resources. And unfortunately, it seemed like for the majority of them, queer folks were not in that group of ‘We’re willing to go to bat for you,’" Crow said.

They noted that the Krause Group and numerous Des Moines-area small businesses were the exception, publicly opposing the legislation.

Recent anti-LGBTQ laws could potentially affect the business community’s ability to recruit and retain a workforce, decrease the state’s population in the long term, and discourage young, creative people from attending college in Iowa, Crow said.

"There’s going to be all these knock-on impacts. If business leaders really want to avoid those, they are going to have to take some short-term political hits in order to facilitate long-term workforce success," they said.

Young, the Des Moines attorney at Dentons Davis Brown PC, grew up in Oskaloosa and has been practicing law for almost 20 years. She and her husband have four children, including a transgender daughter.

Young said she met Malheiro when she joined the law firm about five and a half years ago.

"I had heard of Sharon and I knew of Sharon, and I have kids who were part of the LGBTQ community, and so she was an important person in our life even if she didn’t know us yet," Young said.

The two women collaborated on run-of-the-mill legal work but gradually got to know each other better.

"On Sundays or weekend afternoons, sometimes I would take my notebook over to Sharon’s house and I would sit down at her kitchen table. And she would tell me everything. She would tell me everything – she would tell me, ‘Here’s what we did for the Varnum case. Here’s why we filed in the court that we did. Here’s who we got on board and here’s how we worked in the community to garner community support for civil rights for LGBTQ people,’" Young said.

Young said that Malheiro also nudged her to serve on the board of One Iowa.

"That was something that I had to think a lot about because … I’m a person who is married to a man. And it’s like, does the board need a person like me on there?"

After talking with Malheiro and with One Iowa for "months and months," Young joined the board.

Malheiro was also intentional about connecting Young with other leaders in the wider community – Camilla Taylor at Lambda Legal, Rita Bettis Austen at the ACLU of Iowa, Rekha Basu at the Des Moines Register and others.

"She was very intentional about laying a road map, laying the infrastructure, that would last beyond the scope of any one person’s lifetime," Young said.

Leaders to potentially follow in Sharon Malheiro’s footsteps
1. Breanna Young, trusts and estates attorney at Dentons Davis Brown PC (mentioned by Courtney Reyes and Keenan Crow).
2. Connie Ryan, executive director at the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa (mentioned by Reyes and Crow).
3. Kendra Weston, founder, executive director and attorney at Lavender Legal Center, which is based in Cedar Rapids (mentioned by Breanna Young).

Landmark cases in which Sharon Malheiro played a pivotal role
1. Alons v. Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, which upheld a district court decision dissolving the Vermont civil union of a same-sex couple.
2. Varnum v. Brien, a landmark case declaring the Iowa Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.
3. Planned Parenthood v. Iowa Board of Medicine, which established a fundamental right to abortion through telemedicine.
4. Gartner v. Iowa Department of Public Health, which ruled Iowa parents in same-sex marriages must be allowed to have both of their names listed on their child’s birth certificate.
Source: Dentons Davis Brown PC

Kate Zimmerman balances conservation, sustainable agriculture as new director of Whiterock Conservancy in west-central Iowa
Kate Zimmerman is the new executive director of Whiterock Conservancy. Recreational activities available to the public at Whiterock include hiking, running, horseback riding, mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, stargazing and more. Photo by Nicole Grundmeier.
Kate Zimmerman proves that you can always go home. And she is determined to do whatever she can to protect it.

Zimmerman grew up on a farm in Guthrie County, where her parents raised Hereford cattle.

"I was one of four kids, but I was the only outdoorsy kid. So I spent a lot of time on the farm with my dad," Zimmerman said.

Her grandparents taught her to value nature and to explore Iowa’s wild places.

"They would take me out on hikes to different parks and wildlife areas. My grandma in particular was a huge lover of the spring ephemerals. So we would go out and do those every spring, and I just really fell in love with that side of Iowa. And then as I grew into knowing more about Iowa’s history and our loss of habitat, and our ecosystems, it really just became a passion of mine to help protect Iowa and protect the wildlife and the ecosystems here," Zimmerman said.

Her three siblings eventually left the state. Zimmerman stayed. She took conservation jobs in Bremer and Ringgold counties.

In late March, Zimmerman, 37, started a new job as executive director of Whiterock Conservancy near Coon Rapids. It stretches into Guthrie, Greene and Carroll counties. The 5,500-acre conservancy is notable for its combined missions of practicing and encouraging sustainable agriculture and conservation, along with providing recreational opportunities.

It’s a legacy of the Garst family and includes the site where Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev visited Roswell "Bob" Garst on Sept. 23, 1959. Two years ago, the conservancy land was sold with easements requiring that conservation practices continue.

Recreational activities available to the public at Whiterock include hiking, running, horseback riding, mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, stargazing and more.

Whiterock offers educational programs and events, which are vital when so many people are disconnected from nature and from agriculture, Zimmerman said.

"When you’re doing school programs and kids tell you that they don't know where milk comes from – it comes from the grocery store, right? So I think we’re seeing that disconnect from nature and from the land, and, hopefully, through environmental education and those types of things, we can pull that back."

Zimmerman said she considers education about milkweed plants and their relationship with monarch butterflies as one of her biggest success stories.

"When I started doing monarch-tagging programs, I would have, like, five people show up. Now I’m not there obviously anymore, but 12 years later, there’d be 80 to 100 people showing up on our tagging programs. And the initial outcry was, of course, "My wife attended your program and now I can’t cut these darn milkweeds" and I get those comments, to 10 to 12 years later, those same individuals are now coming up to me, showing pictures on their phone to me about their milkweed patch and how proud they were."

The Business Record recently caught up with Zimmerman. This Q&A has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.


What has surprised you about the job so far?

I grew up in Guthrie County, and I was aware of Whiterock, but by the time it really got going, I had already moved on to college and my other full-time career. So coming back to it and now starting here, it’s just the intricacy of all the moving pieces, with the sustainable ag, the natural resource conservation, as well as combining that recreation aspect. So, lots of moving parts, but it’s such a fantastic model of what Iowa can be.

Tell me about your education, and your background. What was your career like before you came here?

I knew early on that I wanted to do the natural resource side of things. So I started my career in high school at Springbrook State Park, and worked there a couple summers and then I attended Upper Iowa University and got my bachelor’s in conservation management and biology. I started full time right out of college with Bremer County Conservation. I did several other internships with different groups, like the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah. I did a tour with Fayette County Conservation one summer. Right out of college, I got hired on with Bremer County Conservation as a naturalist. That was my first time doing the education side of things. I’d always done more of the natural resource or park enforcement, park management, those types of things. So that was eye-opening. But I grew to love it, to the point that after I moved on from Bremer County and started my executive directorship with Ringgold County Conservation, they had zero environmental education program when I started there, and we fundraised and built an education center, all on grants and donations, in five years.

You have so many different responsibilities here: fundraising, management, recreation, sustainable agriculture. What would you say is most challenging about juggling all that?

I think land management is always going to be a tough one. There are 5,500 acres of Whiterock and such various ecosystems with the oak savannas, the tall-grass prairie; we have some wetlands, and then of course the ag side of things. That takes a lot of time, but we have fantastic staff. We have a great director of land management, or land stewardship, and she does a fantastic job.

What’s it like for you to now be working and saving land where you grew up?

It was a little strange to come home. I won’t lie. I’ve been in northeast and southwest and kind of all over the place with my career, and probably, if you would have asked me five years ago, I would have never, ever anticipated coming back home. But priorities change and things change. I’m the only child left in Iowa for my parents. And as they get a little older, coming home and being close to them was more and more important. I was really interested in getting into the nonprofit world. So when I was looking at those opportunities, that was a huge component, how close it would be to my parents. So it’s been really fun being back home; the Whiterock board has been amazing and so supportive. It’s been a great jump and a great leap into the nonprofit world.

What is the greatest challenge facing Whiterock right now?

I think you’re going to get the same answer with most nonprofits, and that’s, of course, going to be funding. We’re always very interested in talking with new donors as well as our ongoing supporters. We are so appreciative of everybody that supports us and makes sure that we are here through forever for everybody to enjoy. We have such a unique landscape here at Whiterock that you’re not going to find anywhere else in the state of Iowa, as well as with our unique combination of the sustainable ag, natural resources and the recreation. We are really the best model for our state and what we can do to combine all three of those aspects together.

What do the next five years hold for the conservancy?

We would love to grow staff. We are a small organization still, but we are growing every day. Our guest services get busier and busier. And COVID, of course, increased that tenfold. We haven’t seen it slow down since. In five years, I would hope that we can continue to do all the amazing things we’re doing, and do more on top of that.

How did COVID affect Whiterock Conservancy?

I wasn’t here during the early COVID years, but I was in a similar organization that does similar things. There was nothing to do; people were stuck in their houses. And lucky for us we had those places to go. Iowa was ranked 47th, fourth-worst in the nation, for public spaces, but the fact that we do have what we have still creates a great opportunity for people to get out with our state parks or county parks or nonprofit areas like Whiterock, to have those locations to really escape and get out and still have those opportunities to recreate. I think it made people get out and explore their backyards. Because sometimes we do ignore what’s right next to us.

I know you haven’t been here very long, but what are you most proud of that you’ve been able to achieve since arriving?

I love our team, and team-building is a huge part of being successful. So we have a great staff, and we are really creating that team that’s going to really push Whiterock into the future. I love creating foundation work, making sure that we are a sustainable organization and moving forward that way as well. And fundraising is always fun. We just did a foraged event at Big Grove Brewery in Des Moines. That was really fantastic. And a lot of the meal was foraged right here at Whiterock. They made some weird stuff, and one of my favorites ended up being this asparagus dessert. I was a little leery of it. But it was fantastic. So Big Grove partnered with us along with Lua Brewing, and proceeds from the event came to Whiterock. They’re also doing bison burgers from our bison that we have here at Whiterock, neat farm-to-table-type stuff.

In the headlines
The Iowa Supreme Court declined to reinstate a six-week abortion ban, which means abortion remains legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks of pregnancy, according to Iowa Public Radio. The 3-3 split decision released Friday leaves a 2022 district court ruling in place that rejected Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds' request to reinstate a law that would prohibit abortion once fetal cardiac activity is detected. One of the seven justices did not take part in the decision.

New research points to a possible link between endometriosis, a chronic disease that causes debilitating pain, and bacteria commonly found in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract, according to the Washington Post. The condition affects roughly 10% of women worldwide and can cause extreme pelvic and lower back pain, heavy periods, infertility and more. Currently, treatment options are extremely limited because the root cause is not known.

Tori Bowie was once the fastest woman in the world. So when she was found dead last month at just 32 years old, it rocked the sport of track and field. Now the tragedy of her death is fully known: Bowie was eight months pregnant, and died due to complications from childbirth, according to NPR. She ultimately died from respiratory distress and eclampsia. Black Americans face an elevated risk of preeclampsia and eclampsia, contributing to a higher death rate before and after childbirth. The Wall Street Journal wrote that Bowie's death is part of a maternal mortality crisis in the U.S.

After overwhelmingly voting to finalize the expulsion of two churches with female pastors, Southern Baptists voted last week to further expand restrictions on women in church leadership, potentially opening up hundreds of new churches to investigation and expulsions, according to the New York Times. Delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in New Orleans approved an amendment to their constitution that their churches must have "only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture."

Worth checking out
Edith Kanaka’ole is the first Native Hawaiian woman to be featured on a U.S. quarter (NPR). Men think they are strong workplace allies. Women disagree (Scientific America). Why do women have more sleep issues than men? (New York Times). Your child is neurodivergent. Should you tell everyone? (Washington Post).
There is still time to register for the next Fearless online event, which starts at noon on Thursday.

Due to systemic and individual barriers, women may be on a continuous journey to improving their confidence. Confidence can come in many forms – body image, self-esteem, willingness to step outside our comfort zones – and they all affect one another. Confidence plays a role in whether we dive into challenges or sit them out, whether we negotiate our salaries and whether we stand up against inequity.

In this conversation, our speakers will talk about how we can empower ourselves or women we know in finding confidence in ourselves as we work toward professional and personal goals. You’ll leave feeling energized with a better understanding of why confidence can at times be hard and with strategies to inspire us to find ourselves worthy and in turn help others see that they are enough, too.

Would you trust your eyelashes to AI?
I read a story this week in the Washington Post about AI-powered robots giving women eyelash extensions. Have any of you tried this, Fearless readers?

I have a healthy distrust of AI. This spring, I taught an introductory reporting and writing class at Simpson College. One of my students used ChatGPT to write a profile story. The assignment contained more than 10 bizarre factual errors in strangely similar sentences. In journalism classes, one factual error is an automatic F.

Despite that experience, I know I need to be more open-minded with technology. How has AI helped you to succeed in the workplace or in life?

Even if I'm not ready to have a robot touch my eyelashes, maybe there are some practical uses? Tell me about your relationship with AI. You can email me at I'm all eyes and ears.

-- Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer
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